KENOSHA, Wisconsin – This Lake Michigan town was quiet, calm, and peaceful on Sunday, and many residents want it to stay that way as the closing arguments in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial begin Monday.
“Monday is coming, so I mean, it’s a little nervous,” said 35-year-old Kenosha resident Mike Lipp.
Wisconsin has dispatched 500 National Guard soldiers, and hundreds of nearby police officers will also be on hand as a precautionary measure to ensure public safety as the trial completes.
But the increased attention and presence from law enforcement has put a heavy strain on the city, which is no longer as vibrant as it once was, said downtown resident Max Lewis.
“It has had a negative impact on the city’s energy. It’s not the same. Everyone is trying to avoid the situation and keep an eye on the situation, ”said Lewis. “We are a little dismayed by the situation. This case should be cut and dry. If you kill two people on the street, you will be punished for it, end of story. “
Rittenhouse, 18, faces charges of reckless homicide, premeditated homicide, and attempted deliberate homicide after shooting two men and injuring a third during a night of protests and riots in Kenosha in August 2020.
The riot came in response to the shooting of Jacob Blake by a Kenosha police officer after a domestic disturbance. Blake was paralyzed from the waist down.
“Kenosha is ready to move on,” said First Baptist Church pastor Patrick Roberts, before his sermon on Sunday. “Everyone was calm and the community understands that they need to heal.”
Blake’s family agree, but want justice for the people Rittenhouse shot.
“Well, I really think they want to get this over with,” said Justin Blake, 52, Jacob Blake’s uncle. “Most people think he shouldn’t have been here with that gun. Most people seem to want a conviction. “
He added, “It will be a small token of victory for the Blake family as these people were gathered after coming from Jacob Blake’s rally.”
Local residents say that life in the city of around 100,000 has largely returned to normal since last summer.
Most of the streets around the city on Sunday were empty and not many people were out, maybe because of the bad weather and the cold.
One thing is clear, however: the residents of Kenosha are ready to leave the past behind and start over.
“I would say that Kenosha is doing pretty well. Everyone understands what’s going on. Obviously it’s unfortunate circumstances that led to it, but I think everyone is waiting for a degree to get past this, ”said Mark Amburn, 59, of neighboring Pleasant Prairie.
John Eason, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said the closing arguments and verdict were a defining moment for America.
“I think the mood in Wisconsin, not just Kenosha, is that they have all the racial awakening behind them. All indications are that it will, which warrants white people, “Eason said, adding,” If the pinnacle of social justice in the country was George Floyd, then this is the pendulum swinging back. This is the turning point back. ”
The Blake family also believe the trial has national implications.
“It’s about the state of Wisconsin and the nation,” said Justin Blake. “Either way, this case could set a precedent for gun rights.”
As the trial nears its end, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers asks visitors to stay away from Kenosha.
“I urge people who are not otherwise from the area to respect the community by rethinking their travel plans,” he said in a statement. “The Kenosha community has been strong, resilient, and has come through incredibly difficult times over the past two years, and this healing is still ongoing.”
Roberts said in his homily that it was time for the fellowship to come together.
“God responds to screams. In order for the Kenosha community to heal, we need to cry out to God in our prayers, ”he said. “We know what’s going on, we see the news, we live here. Turn away from bad behavior, bad character. Turn away from evil, Kenosha, especially at night. ”